Hosted by Circular Board CEO Carolyn Rodz and Dell Entrepreneur-in-Residence Elizabeth Gore, Circular Summit brought together accomplished female founders and investors to collaborate on how to accelerate the growth of women-led businesses.
What struck me the most about the women I met was that they were all inspired by a higher purpose. This higher purpose was the catalyst that led them to create their socially-driven startups.
Companies that use purpose to drive growth end up making more money than companies that do not. In fact, organizations that exude a culture of purpose and have a focus beyond profits are more likely to find long-term success.
Research indicates that millennials are just as concerned with a business's culture and impact on society as they are with that organization's products and profits.
In talking with the 8 founders featured in this article, I discovered that all of the companies they represent are about something much bigger than themselves.
Not only are these women's companies scalable, but they all share one distinct characteristic in common: the wholehearted desire to make the world a better place by using both a purposeful and profitable mission to make this happen.
8 Women-Led Startups That Use Social Missions to Drive Growth
1. Piece & Co: Kathleen Wright, Founder and CEO
The Background: Piece & Co. is a Chicago-based fashion company that acts as a bridge between traditional artisan techniques and global fashion. By providing sustainable employment to women artisans in developing countries, Piece & Co.'s artisans create handmade textiles for the fashion industry.
The Purpose: Armed with a commitment to empower women in the developing world through economic development and the knowledge that consumers wanted more mission driven products, Kathleen Wright started Piece & Co. in 2012.
Wright explains, "I did a lot of research about what happened when income got into the hands of women and it resonated with me on such a deep level. It was almost like a calling."
The Growth: Piece & Co.'s board members include fashion industry powerhouses Paolo Riva, CEO of Diane von Furstenberg and fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff.
When I asked how Wright has attracted the right advisers, investors, and partners to help Piece & Co. grow, Wright explained, "People are excited because they see macro trends that are starting to be in favor of a more conscious and impactful way of doing business in this industry. They were attracted to what we were doing from a business and impact standpoint. "
2. Miraculum: Dr. Ann-Christine Langselius, Co-founder and CEO
The Background: Miraculum, Inc., a Swedish corporation that recently expanded to the U.S., produces highly effective eco-friendly fire safety products. The only known company that creates clean-tech solutions that are both preventative and used as an active firefighting tool, Ikea is one of Miraculum's customers.
The Purpose: For Co-founder and CEO, Dr. Ann-Christine Langselius, a former Swedish Air Force pilot, protecting the environment is a passion deeply rooted in her from childhood. "I was born by the Arctic Circle in Sweden, so I've spent my whole life outdoors," says Dr. Langelius.
"Really everything I've done has been outdoors. So, I am into preserving and being careful with what we are doing and not wasting resources. It's at the core to everything," explains Dr. Langselius.
The Growth: The purpose is what propels Dr. Langselius to continuously expand Miraculum's products and reach. "We have created a home safety kit that we are now ready to launch. Our products are more effective because you need less of our products. There's less water damage and can be customized for your house or car," explains Dr. Langselius.
The Swedish Foreign Ministry through the Swedish Embassy in Washington D.C. selects companies that they promote and help to grow. Miraculum is on this list with companies, such as Ikea, Volvo, and Saab.
3. Mothers Milk Cooperative: Adrianne Weir, Co-founder and CEO
The Background: Mothers Milk Cooperative is a breast milk bank. Co-founder & CEO, Adrianne Weir explains, "We refer to it as donating milk. Men donate sperm and get paid. Women can donate breast milk and get paid."
Adrianne Weir's Co-founder and mother, Elena Medo, was a single mom who unhappy with the breast pumps on the market that time, manufactured her own breast pump and turned it into national success.
A serial entrepreneur, Medo subsequently founded Prolacta Bioscience in 1999, raised $25 million in venture capital and created the first ever concentrated and commercialized human milk product.
Now Medo is CEO of Medolac, Mothers Milk Cooperative's partner that does the testing, processing, formulating, and partners with hospitals so that they can access the breast milk babies need.
The Purpose: Weir took these statistics to heart: Each year, 15 million babies in the world are born prematurely. By feeding premature babies a diet of only human milk, the instances of the leading cause of death in premature infants is reduced by 50%.
"We do not behave in a predatory way--this is not a pharmaceutical--this is not a biologic. We are not here to prey on people when that are extremely vulnerable. Having a sick infant is about as vulnerable as anyone will ever be," says Weir.
The Growth: Through Mother's Milk Cooperative's Milk Money program, more than $1 million was paid out to breast milk donors in the first year of the program.
Weir explains, "We saw breast milk emerging as a market. We created a cooperative business model so that for the first time ever the mothers who donate and make it all possible actually own the milk bank."
"We have designed our model to where we can consider both the social impact of our work and the return to our investors. As a public benefits corporation, we have that built right in to the fabric of our company," says Weir.
4. Women Rising: Sara Bordo, Founder and CEO
The Background: Women Rising is a production company that champions stories and creates memorable experiences that empower women and girls worldwide.
In partnership with the United Nations Foundation, Women Rising produced the first TEDxAustinWomen event , which was the #1 viewed TEDxWomen event of 2013.
Sara Bordo, Founder and CEO of Women Rising, explained to me what led her to start her company. Bordo had a former female boss with whom she had enjoyed a wonderful relationship with in the beginning of her tenure.
As Bordo grew and became more successful in her professional role, her former boss became less of a champion and source of support for Bordo. "I learned quickly and painfully that when women are threatened by each other, it can turn into a battleground," says Bordo.
"I went into resign and my former boss agreed that it was time for me to go. She said to me: 'I've always felt that you belonged more in an apron than in an office.' And, so-- that day Women Rising was born," explains Bordo.
The Purpose: Through this experience Bordo realized that she didn't want to be a part of a conversation that focused on what's not right, but rather a catalyst for bringing life to stories so that women and girls have positive and empowering examples of what they can become.
The Growth: Women Rising directed and produced the documentary, A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, which depicts the anti-bullying champion, Lizzie Velasquez, a woman once coined as the "World's Ugliest Woman" in a video posted on YouTube.
The film premiered in the 2014 South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival and won 10 awards from 9 festivals. It is now being distributed worldwide.
"Our film is the first documentary that Lifetime TV has purchased-- from what we heard yesterday-- maybe ever," explains Bordo.
"I think what we have cracked the code with--through the film and with the experiences we create--is that there is absolutely a way for a venture to be profitable and purposeful," says Bordo.
5. Naja: Catalina Girald, Founder and CEO
The Background: Naja is an eco-friendly lingerie company that aims to change the way women shop for lingerie, as well as disrupt the lingerie industry's primary marketing tactic: the objectification of women.
Naja's Underwear For Hope program teaches single mothers in Columbia's slums to sew so that they can work from home and provide for their families.
The Purpose: Stanford graduate and former Mergers & Acquisitions Attorney, Catalina Girald, who was born in Columbia, created Naja after traveling the world for 21-months and living with nomads.
Girald came out of that experience knowing that she wanted to work to empower women. She decided that she was going do this through lingerie, whether it was the wearer or the garment worker.
Naja strives to be environmentally sustainable by using digital and sublimation printing technologies to eliminate water waste and by using fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles.
The Growth: Naja has raised $2.3 million to date with big name investors, such as Maveron's Howard Schultz, Tim Draper of Draper Fisher, and Mindy Grossman, the CEO of HSN.
"Naja has very high margins. If you look at our numbers from the health of a business perspective compared to a company that, say, has raised $17 million, Naja is a much healthier company financially because we are very close to break even," says Girald.
"On the consumer end of things. We have data from polling our own consumers as to how powerful the social message is," explains Girald.
Lingerie is not something women tend to purchase multiple times in a year, but Girald says, "our highest purchasing customer bought 28 times last year."
6. Circular Board: Carolyn Rodz, Founder & CEO
The Background: Founded by three-time entrepreneur Carolyn Rodz, Circular Board is a collaborative accelerator for growth-oriented female entrepreneurs who lead, or aspire to build, businesses with multi-million dollar revenues.
The Purpose: Rodz explains, "My first company failed and so this is the answer to the thing that I wish I would have had on day one. Subsequent to that I built a company that was highly successful with everything that I learned along the way, but I learned it in a really slow and expensive way."
What really drives Rodz is the fact that, "Women re-invest 90 cents on the dollar back into their families and communities. If we start to see them performing at the same level as their male counterparts, there is incredible opportunity for significant global impact," says Rodz.
The Growth: Rodz believes that what makes Circular Board so impactful is the commitment that the women members have to pay it forward.
Rodz explains, "As they drive each other forward it becomes this engine of everybody challenging each other to reach the next level. So that it isn't one company making money with a singular purpose, but it's actually fueling a pipeline of entrepreneurs to go out and solve all kinds of global problems."
"I am a big believer in for-profit- for-purpose companies because I think it's the most sustainable way to impact change. At the end of the day it's really hard work to build something impactful and we deserve to be compensated for it. It also helps us keep the wheels moving and it fuels the growth of the impact," says Rodz.
7. Macromoltek: Monica Berrondo Ph.D, Founder & CEO
The Background: Macromoltek is a scientific software company for the pharmaceutical industry that helps researchers make new discoveries by speeding-up and streamlining the process used to analyze potential antibody drug targets.
Instead of being tied to a lab to use data and analyze results, Macromoltek software allows researchers to access the important data from anywhere in the world. Usually a process that takes months, Macromoltek decreases the process down to just hours.
Not only is the software easy for researchers to learn, but it cuts down the cost of expensive computers and lab equipment typically used to analyze potential antibody drug targets.
The Purpose: Dr. Monica Berrondo, Founder and CEO, started Macromoltek after she completed her Ph.D in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Always a lover of software programming, but frustrated by how long it took for the structure of an antibody to be produced, Dr. Berrondo wanted to speed up this process to get potentially life-saving drugs into the hands of patients faster.
The Growth: Macromoltek's vision for growth is to change the way drug companies do research by helping researchers maintain the focus on their science to enable them to make important new discoveries.
Macromoltek is also focused on employing women. Dr. Berrondo explains, "80% of our employees are women." As Macromoltek grows, Dr. Berrondo is also committed to hiring employees that have non-traditional backgrounds. "Talent is more than what's on paper," says Berrondo.
8. HelperChoice: Laurence Fauchon, Founder & CEO
The Background: HelperChoice is a social platform that helps to ethically and legally match domestic help with families in Hong Kong, the U.A.E, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Singapore.
Founder and CEO, Laurence Fauchon, explains, "For migrant domestic workers paying five months salaries to secure a job is common practice. If they want to work overseas, agents require them to not only to pay, but also to take out hefty loans with loan sharks."
The Purpose: French-born Fauchon who resides in Hong Kong came up with the idea of HelperChoice when she hired her own domestic worker to have childcare so she could work outside the home.
"I found out that my domestic worker had paid more than US $1,160 to secure this job with me. She shrugged that it was just normal practice and that her fee was not that high. I realized that despite new legislation and increased government supervision, nothing had changed," explains Fauchon.
The Growth: Fauchon says, "Our social mission is the unfair advantage that has allowed us to grow 300 percent year per year."
HelperChoice has helped over 5,000 domestic workers find jobs, which means domestic workers have saved a total of US $6 million.
Fauchon says, "It's great, but I want to do more. Worldwide there are 11.5 million migrant domestic workers and I want to help all of them."